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Council at odds about mayor’s pay

WARNER ROBINS – How much the mayor makes and where money will come from to build a new police complex were both left in a gray area following heated debate during Monday’s city council meeting.

The mayor’s salary became an issue in September after then-Mayor Donald Walker came to the council saying the raise from $50,000 to $100,000 wasn’t properly done. Current Mayor John Havrilla said the city has received word from two groups saying the mayor’s salary is still $50,000 because the raise was not properly carried out. As a result, he said, he has been receiving a $50,000 salary since he took office Sept. 28.

“I wouldn’t ever want anybody to come back to me and say, ‘You owe us this money,’ ” Havrilla said. “We got two opinions from well-qualified sources on the matter.”

In January 2008, the council approved a 100 percent raise for the mayor’s salary from $50,000 to $100,000. Walker said the raise wasn’t properly advertised and no ordinance was made, making the raise illegal.

The group at Monday’s pre-council session was split about whether the salary should be investigated or whether it should stay at $100,000.

Horton cited the fact that when a raise to $125,000 was sought this summer, the current salary was advertised at $100,000, which should be enough to satisfy the public.

“This arose out of a political thing,” Horton said. “On two occasions, we advertised it. The first time, the ordinance cannot be found. That does not mean there was no ordinance. I’m of the opinion that we leave (the salary) like it is. We never tried to deceive the public in any way when we went about setting that salary.”

The ones most affected by the eventual decision are mayoral candidates councilman Clifford Holmes, pharmaceutical sales representative Chuck Shaheen and Chuck Chalk, a program manager at Robins Air Force Base.

“We waited two years to bring it up,” Holmes said. “I’m of an opinion that a decision needs to be made. We don’t need to go from meeting to meeting to meeting.”

He seconded a motion by Horton to leave the salary where it was. That motion failed. Instead, the council voted to get an official ruling on whether the salary should stay where it is or go back to $50,000.

FUNDING FOR NEW POLICE COMPLEX UNCERTAIN

Troubles with funding for the Warner Robins Police Department complex came up as Houston County officials stopped SPLOST payments to Warner Robins, citing violations by the city in its attempts to use SPLOST funds to offset a shortfall in paying for a new police department structure.

Havrilla said the money was improperly earmarked to fulfill the remaining cost of the proposed structure.

“The bottom line here is that our vote to move the money to another project is not correct,” Havrilla said.

During the council’s Aug. 3 meeting, the council agreed that about $9 million would be spent on the new Warner Robins Police Department complex, and also decided the structure would be located at Watson Boulevard and Maple Street, where Jimmy Perkins Memorial Field currently is located.

Havrilla said he asked utilities director Montie Walters to look into other projects that can be satisfied with the $4 million in SPLOST money.

Councilman Bob Wilbanks said discussion already occurred about the reallocation of funds from the SPLOST project after it was deemed water and sewer projects weren’t needed because of the city’s upkeep of its infrastructure.

Not true said councilman Terry Horton, who was on the council when the SPLOST projects were decided.

“We’ve got some areas that are in serious shape on the north side of town,” Horton said. “Every time we talk about that, it became an issue of ‘let’s divert the money somewhere else.’ There are projects that were intended to be done that have not been done.”

Regardless of the outcome with the SPLOST funds, Wilbanks said the law enforcement complex is still a priority to him.

“I am totally committed to finding a funding source for the law enforcement center,” he said. “Those men and women over there are working in deplorable conditions, and we still need to do something about it.”

To contact writer Marlon A. Walker, call 256-9685.

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